As the sun streams through the balcony window of the pavilion at Weetwood, Andrew Lawson, Head Coach of Leeds/Bradford MCCU, is summoning the words to assess the 336-run defeat down at Derby that concluded the day before.
It has been a chastening few days for the student sides against county opposition, highlighted by Somerset’s enormous 568-run win over Cardiff MCCU that predictably cranked up the calls for these fixtures to lose their first-class status. More of that later…
I’ve known Andrew for years and, cards on the table, have sponsored the Leeds/Bradford MCCU squad for 5 years because I believe it to have real merit and is something worth supporting.
I’d like to think those enduring relationships and access awards me more insight than perhaps some others who are quick to put the boot in over poor results – but I’ll let you be the judge, having read this feature.
Lawson (above) is not one to hide behind excuses and points out how the intensity of first-class cricket is what has caught some off-guard this week.
He is both mentor and taskmaster and the long and the short of it is that the Yorkshire students were way off the pace at Derby:
“The truth is that with first-class cricket, the intensity throughout the game is high and there were lads who, as the game went on, started to get a little bit tired and slower in the field. The bowlers were feeling the pressure of being out there for 103 overs and being back in the field later in the day.”
It’s worth noting that there is barely time to gather thoughts – just two days between Derbyshire and Yorkshire fixtures – before the likes of Duanne Olivier, Ben Coad, Gary Ballance and Adam Lyth rock up.
The scheduling is not in their favour but equally it reflects the professional treadmill: “It’s tight, it’s hard for the lads but I’m not going to use that excuse because I’d rather play the counties and have this window to showcase what they’re capable of doing.”
Lawson, ever a student of the game himself, sees every experience, however rough, as invaluable: “Derby was a good learning curve; to be aware of what’s required to play first-class cricket. The skill and fitness levels have to go up and the mental side is draining. By day three, there were a few tired bodies and the shot selection and decision-making wasn’t up to standard. I think they’re better cricketers than that.”
They are learning the hard way that the standard and graft required for county cricket is way above anything they’ve come up against before.
That being said, you don’t become a pro or even think like one overnight; it’s through learning out in the middle where there’s nowhere to hide.
The class of 2019 is young and inexperienced – all but Jonathan Reed, the former Yorkshire 2nd XI wicketkeeper-batsman who plays for Scarborough, made their first-class debuts this week. Nonetheless, many have played second-eleven county cricket and could have what it takes.
As I’ve said on Twitter this week, why is anyone surprised that the MCCUs get thrashed?
The counties have everything in their favour: finances, facilities, experience and ultimately, strengthen in depth. Why do the MCCUs, greener than most English pitches, face three counties in the first month? It’s because the counties want it that way.
Yorkshire have three players who have played international cricket with the majority of the rest of the 13-man squad for Sunday having been capped for England Lions or England Under 19.
On paper at least, it is a mismatch and yet it is an opportunity for young cricketers to grab headlines and impress the right people.
The Leeds/Bradford MCCU squad for 2019 comprises 24 lads, half of whom are newcomers, but all striving for that ultimate prize of a county contract and a crack at life within professional cricket.
If you haven’t heard of the scheme before, the MCC Universities programme allows students the chance to study for a degree alongside matches against counties and other MCCUs. The ECB will be taking over the MCCU scheme from July 2020 and all manner of changes are still to be formally announced but I can shed some light on those in due course.
There are a number of pathways to representing a county with progress through Yorkshire Academy and 2nd XI a typical route but many MCCU cricketers have earnt a county contract off the back of their efforts at university. There’s Steve Patterson, Harry Gurney and Luis Reece to pick just three names from the Yorkshire hub.
Equally, many already have links to counties and will be wanting to catch the eye in these early-season showpieces to nudge coaches as to their form and potential.
As we look ahead to the very first game of Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s 2019 season, it is unusual for it not to be hosted at Headingley but there is a glut of county and international cricket this summer and so instead Yorkshire are the visitors in Yorkshire for a change.
Yorkshire have named a squad of 13 for the match with the shortest distance to an away fixture this year (1.8 miles via Otley Road/A660):
Gary Ballance, Harry Brook, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Ben Coad, Jack Leaning, Adam Lyth, Duanne Olivier, Steven Patterson (c), Mathew Pillans, Jonathan Tattersall (wk), Josh Shaw, Matthew Waite, Jared Warner.
Meanwhile, opening batsman Steve Bullen (above) retains the MCCU captaincy this season although he is set to miss the fixture against Yorkshire with a groin strain.
Angus Dahl, who played Surrey 2nd XI last season will lead the team, having already skippered against Derbyshire.
Barring any last-minute mishaps, the Leeds/Bradford MCCU side will remain unchanged at Weetwood:
Josh Haynes, Taylor Cornall, Oliver Batchelor, Angus Dahl (c), Saad Ashraf, Darren Ironside, Johnny Read (wk), Andrew Neal, Josh Fallows, Josh Holling, Stephen Cantwell.
First-class status or not?
There are many opponents to these matches against the counties having first-class status. The standard of the MCCUs isn’t strong enough and it dilutes the pedigree of county cricket, so the argument goes.
I could rustle up another 2,000 words just on this topic but allow me to try to be succinct and lay out the MCCU perspective. First-class status for these MCCU vs county matches is absolutely vital. These games shouldn’t be watered down to meaningless friendlies.
Something has to be riding on the result for both sets of players. It is crucial to recruiting players to the university centres. First-class cricket means everything and elevates not just status but performance.
It is my understanding that all eighteen counties are unanimous for these MCCU fixtures to lose their first-class status in future; presumably after 2020 when the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), not MCC, oversees proceedings.
Nothing has been formally announced – and it may not be for some time – but at the very least, the stance towards MCCUs and their place in the county schedule is hardening.
The counties don’t see the value of these matches other than as glorified practice; that’s my words, not theirs.
When counties were being shot out for ludicrously low totals last September (Durham all out for 61 then 66 in same day against Leicestershire springs to mind), were there any demands to cull their first-class status?
Lawson’s view is: “The importance of first-class status, and I’m a firm advocate of it, is it shows the boys and sets the standard of what’s required to play. Once you put a tag to it, there’s a responsibility and purpose to the game. If you’re going to play this level of cricket, that is the standard, that’s what’s required. We’ve got to come to the party as MCCUs.”
No-one is more acutely aware than Leeds/Bradford MCCU and the other centres of the scrutiny on them at this time of year.
People expect them to fail. People expect them to be overwhelmed. But they might surprise you.
The odds are stacked against their batsmen repelling Duanne Olivier’s rockets or Ben Coad’s guile at Weetwood. One or more of Yorkshire’s top six might blast a big hundred but the pressure isn’t all one-way.
After all, no-one wants a duck first up or to see their bowling carted with Nottinghamshire round the corner.
For now at least, Leeds/Bradford MCCU versus Yorkshire is first-class and it’s up to the home side to come out fighting and show their mettle.
All-rounder Martin Andersson awarded two-year professional contract
Middlesex Cricket is today delighted to announce that all-rounder Martin Andersson has been awarded his first professional contract – signing a two-year deal with the club.
Until now Andersson has been playing on a summer contract, working around his studies at Leeds/Bradford University which finished this summer, and the twenty-one-year old’s full-time professional contract will start in January 2019 and run until at least the end of 2020.
Andersson has played a major role in Middlesex’s Second Eleven successes in recent seasons with both bat and ball and made his first eleven debut in Middlesex’s final Vitality Blast fixture of this year’s campaign against Sussex. He has previously played two first-class matches for Leeds/Bradford MCCU against Kent and Yorkshire.
Middlesex’s Managing Director Angus Fraser commented:
“Martin has made a really positive impression on everyone since leaving University.
“He has shown his adaptability by scoring hundreds in both T20 and red-ball cricket and he has bowled with control and discipline too.
“We believe he has the potential to develop into a fine all-round cricketer.”
Andersson himself commented:
“I am extremely proud to have been given this opportunity and am looking forward to the next two years here at Lord’s”.
MCC and ECB have revealed a change to the operation and funding of university cricket from 2020.
After the MCC’s decision to conclude its financial support for the current programme in two years’ time, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has stepped in and agreed to resume the funding of university cricket.
MCCU centres, additional Universities, British Universities Colleges Sports (BUCS) and the First Class Counties will be consulted as part of the evolution of the scheme and the ECB website article below references a possible emphasis on white-ball cricket plus enhanced support for elite women cricketers in higher education.
Much to discuss and no doubt there will be news filtering through in months to come – but crucially, funding has been secured through the governing body.
You can read the full ECB article here – https://www.ecb.co.uk/news/691592/ecb-to-resume-university-cricket-funding
On another beautiful day at the Racecourse – a stunning ground when the sun shines – the Yellows set off in search of the 280 runs required to gain the first innings win and necessary bonus points to overhaul Loughborough and join Cardiff in the MCCU Challenge Final at Lord’s.
Steve Bullen and Henry Thompson began the reply in style, with their first century stand of the season and arguably the team’s best session of the campaign as they walked off at lunch with the score on 135 for 0, Bullen on 65 and Thompson on 59. The stew and mash must have caused a few digestive problems though, as the next hour saw 4 wickets fall for the addition of only 40 runs with all wickets going to the left-arm spin of JJ Dewes. Bullen was the first to go, driving at one that turned and edging to slip, without adding to his lunchtime score. Billy Root looked comfortable until he turned a ball into the hands of short leg after scoring 18, Christian Davis was adjudged LBW trying to sweep for only 1 and Logan Weston was caught for 3. Having fallen from 135-0 to 175-4 and with the Durham boys keen not to register their 5th 2-day defeat of the season, Lord’s was looking a long way off.
It was left to two guys in their 3rd year at University to use their experience and steady the ship. Thompson had remained solid at the other end as he lost his partners and was now joined by Mr Consistent, Harry Rouse.
Last year Thompson was dismissed in the Challenge Final 3 runs short of a Lord’s century. As he entered the 90s he must have had his eye on helping the team reach another Challenge Final by scoring his first ton in a Leeds Bradford shirt. That was until, when on 92, he turned a ball to backward square, set off for an easy single but then inexplicably decided to return for a suicidal second and despite a desperate dive the lanky Lancastrian was a foot short of his ground when the bails were removed. He trudged off with 93 to his name but, more importantly, with his team needing only another 71 for victory.
Meanwhile Rouse was going steadily at the other end. The Bath-based all-rounder entered the game needing 42 runs to become only the 5th ever Leeds Bradford player to reach the career double of 500 runs and 50 wickets, despite having only scored one half-century. A second one looked very much on the cards though. George Scott helped him add 35 before the Middlesex man was caught behind for 20 with the total on 244 – and 36 still required. Liam Watkinson them came in and batted confidently. In a half-century stand with Rouse he helped take the team past the required target for the first innings win that was needed. At 298 for 6 a 4th and final batting point to put the icing on the cake looked a formality and a 50 for Rouse looked nailed on. Funny old game though. Watkinson was then bowled by Phillips for 36, Rouse skied one to cover and fell 3 runs short of his personal milestone and then Archie Ogden was yorker first ball to leave Phillips on a hat-trick and 1 round needed for the extra point. However, the flurry and wickets had left last man Harwood still in his shorts and t-shirt – let alone padded-up – so with the clock on 5.20 pm, Davis declared and hands were shaken.
Second spot secured although disappointment all round that Cardiff had pipped us to the title. Still, the table doesn’t lie and a place at Lord’s will ensure a fantastic day out for the team on Tuesday 23rd June.
Whilst a small game takes place at Headingley tonight when Yorkshire take on Lancashire in the NatWest T20 Blast, the main event will commence at Weetwood a few hours earlier when approximately 15,000 less spectators will turn up for the MCC / Red Bull T20 Qualifiers. Originally there should have been four teams taking part – Newcastle University, Bristol University, Durham MCCU and the Yellows. We were due to play Newcastle in the first game at 10.00 am but late yesterday afternoon we heard that they would not be taking part – extremely disappointing at such short notice. This means that we have now been given a bye in that game and will now meet the winners of the Bristol v Durham game in the qualifying final. The first game will begin at midday with the final starting at 16.00 hrs. There are three qualifying events taking part – the other two at Loughborough and Cambridge – with the winners of each and the best runner-up going on to compete in two semi-finals and a final at the Parks, Oxford on Monday 15th June. The overall winners will become the England MCC / Red Bull Campus Cricket T20 Champions from 2015 and go on to represent England in the World Campus Cricket Finals in India next October. Having won the competition last year and represented England in the finals at Wormsley & London, the Yellows will be extremely keen to hang on to their title – especially with a trip to the sub-continent in the offing! All support welcome at Weetwood today. It’s free entry and should be the ideal curtain-raiser to tonight’s fireworks down the road!!
With one game still remaining in the BUCS One-day competition, the Yellows are almost guaranteed a place in the semi-finals – barring disasters & freak results. A win in their final game away at Durham on 8 June will ensure a home tie (1 v 4, 2 v 3) on Wednesday 17th June.
It very much looks as though the other semi-finalists will be Durham, Loughborough and Oxford – although ex-Yellows captain and current Southampton Solent coach Richard Browning will be hoping that his team can still cause an upset and qualify.
The final will be played at Kibworth CC in Leicestershire on Wednesday 24th June. Could there be a repeat of 2013 when Luis Reece led the boys to the title?
BUCS One Day Table (Correct to 19 May)
Remaining Fixtures: 26 May - Oxford v Loughborough 29 May - Exeter v Loughborough 1 June - Durham v Cardiff 4 June - Oxford v Solent 8 June - Cambridge v Cardiff Durham v Leeds 10 June - Exeter v Oxford 12 June - Cardiff v Solent